Bright light on horizon for SA textile industry
SOUTH Africa’s clothing industry has struggled over the past two decades with employment numbers dropping. However, with the arrival of digital textile printing, the local textile manufacturing industry is set for revival and could salvage job opportunities lost to China.
This was according to Craig Whyte, the chief executive of digital printing specialists ArtLab. “According to the latest stats (Statistics SA), the local industry went from employing 200000 people in 2002 to a mere 90 000 today. The loss of jobs in this sector has had significant consequences, partly because three out of every four textile and clothing workers are women.”
Whyte said for the industry to move from survival into a more consistent growth phase, it needed a shot in the arm.
“We believe digital printing is just that. According to the latest research, the global textile market is expected to reach more than $1.2trillion (R15.62trln) by 2025. Despite coming off a low base of 2percent of the total textile market, digital printing is set to drastically disrupt the traditional textile industry.”
Whyte added that the effect of the offshoring of Cape Town’s textile and clothing manufacturing industry could be seen in local neighbourhoods.
“We’re based in Woodstock, where a lot of the industry was traditionally located. Over the past 15 years, we saw factories shut doors and witnessed the effect of these on the communities around us. For us, digital textile printing marks a revival of industries related to clothing, upholstery, soft furnishings, and more.”
He said the new technology gives old artisans and small businesses a cost-effective way to revive their craft and improve their livelihoods.
“We’re trying to create a platform for the industry, there’s a strong sense of entrepreneurship in what we’re trying to achieve.”
Whyte has invested close to R10million in new printing equipment over the past few years to bring digital textile printing to South Africa’s shores.
“We’re calling it re-shoring, bringing back some of the manufacturing jobs that were a staple of Cape Town’s business landscape from Chinese factories. By offering higher quality, rapid customisation and a broad range of natural and synthetic materials, digital textile printing is also a cost-effective option for brands and retailers, many of whom have trailed the tech over the past year and now putting in increasingly large orders,” he said.
He added that digital textile printing had already helped revive Europe’s textile industry.
“Large fashion brands such as Zara use digital textile printing to quickly design, print and roll out new styles and fashion to their stores in an environmentally sustainable manner. This allows them to stay ontrend without incurring the significant costs and potential wastage of doing large-volume print runs in China.”
Whyte said digital textile printing had none of the environmental issues associated with traditional pigment dyes, and uses a range of latest-generation technology to ensure minimal ecological impact.
He said the secret to reviving the local textile industry lay in a combination of cutting edge technology and close collaboration between the various industry role players.
“We’re inviting key stakeholders in the local textile industry to trial the new technology.
“Since print runs can start from as low as one metre, there’s no real barrier to entry for new and existing clothing and textile manufacturers to see how it can speed up their production, unlock new business opportunities and hopefully spark a revival of a onceproud local industry.” – joseph. firstname.lastname@example.org
Conserver Fatima February shows Independent Media some of the items in the 12 000 textile collections at the Iziko Social History centre in this file photo. Digital textile printing offers a new life span for the textile industry in the country.